by Christy Ip

Mandarin is now one of the most commonly used languages in the world. Some 21 percent of people in the world read Chinese, so that’s why some schools use Mandarin to teach Chinese now. However, some foreigners still choose to learn Cantonese. What are the reasons behind that?

Katie Chan works at the U.S. consulate, and learning Cantonese is a work requirement.

“I feel it’s more appropriate to learn Cantonese if you are living in Hong Kong,” she said. She also thinks Cantonese is a more fun and interesting language compared to Mandarin. Chan thinks Cantonese is part of the local culture, and it’s upsetting to her to see Cantonese fading.

Steve Lunn and Kim Lunn moved to Hong Kong this year. They enrolled their youngest daughter, Genesis, into a local Chinese kindergarten. They hope Genesis can learn Cantonese as quickly as possible.

“We want our daughter to be able to emerge to the society completely and communicate with the locals,” Kim Lunn said. “We want her to be fully local.” Kim added, “Cantonese is like a stepping stone for her. I think it’s easier for her to transition to learn Mandarin later on. It is because Cantonese has nine tones and Mandarin only has four tones, and I believe learning Cantonese will help her learn Mandarin in the future.”

In fact, research shows there are at least 120 million Cantonese speakers worldwide, but learning Mandarin is still the main trend in the world.

Eva Winsor has learned Mandarin for 21 years. She said when she went to Hong Kong 20 years ago, there were few people who spoke Mandarin, but nowadays, almost everyone speaks Mandarin, including mini bus drivers, supermarket salesmen and taxi drivers.

Kim Lunn said that people are learning Mandarin for better business opportunities. They can use Mandarin in many Asia cities where is very limited. Winsor thinks Cantonese and Mandarin will be like French and English in the past. People start to choose to learn English over French and eventually French will only be a small language.

Lawrence Cheung, an assistant professor of the Department of Linguistics and Modern Languages at The Chinese University of Hong Kong said, he doesn’t think Cantonese will be overtaken by Mandarin in Hong Kong.

“A language development depends largely on government policy,” he said. “Our government still uses Cantonese as our official language. You won’t see CY Leung make a public speech in Mandarin.”

Cheung said language is one of the most important parts of the culture of a city, and Cantonese builds up the values of Hong Kong people.

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